Reflection

Working with service users that have spent time on probation or in prison, a few have reminded me with traits of the below story.

Peace

You may have met people who may have narcissistic traits or display an inability to empathise with another, or view an experience from another perspective other than their own. My aim in this blog, is to offer insight and understanding where possible. I use the name Narcissus throughout this piece of writing to aid personalising narcissistic personality types.

Oppositional

Frank Morris – Small Brown Eyes

The Greek Myth Of Narcissus

According to Conon, Aminias, a young man fell in love with Narcissus, who had already spurned his male suitors. Aminias was also spurned by Narcissus who gave the unfortunate young man a sword. Aminias killed himself at Narcissus’ doorstep praying to the Gods to give Narcissus a lesson for all the pain he had provoked.

Narcissus was once walking by a lake or river and decided to drink some water; he saw his reflection in the water and was surprised by the beauty he saw; he became entranced by the reflection of himself. He could not obtain the object of his desire though, and he died at the banks of the river or lake from his sorrow.

According to the myth Narcissus is still admiring himself in the Underworld, looking at the waters of the Styx.

Inner Turmoil

The aspect that I find interesting about the story of Narcissus and narcissists is that the self image is the one that they protect and adore above all others. The self then is unreal, it is reflection, a mirrored image of perfection that is ultimately flawed as it cannot be attained or possessed, and as such is wanted all the more. A degree of pity and ideas of missed opportunities often flit behind my understanding and observed compassion about working with someone who may have a distorted view of their reality. By their holding so tightly to their view of reality, sometimes with arms, legs, teeth and eyes shut, the world as a whole is considered wrong, bleak, threatening, offering little that can shift their perspective or alter the strangle hold they may have on what they feel is rightfully theirs.

Small window

** Seeing Out Seeing Self

Pain

The pain of being held accountable, of being wrong, of shame and embarrassment, of being made vulnerable and seen as weak or lesser than, is a fear that has a person who may have narcissistic traits to hold on to their distortion that little bit harder and for far longer. The threat of being made small again is too great. Tactics are used to enable self-aggrandizement and remain with a sense of strength (Omnipotence), being right, whole, good, beautiful and powerful, employed at other peoples expense and often their suffering.

Narcissistic personality?

Narcissism produces a distorted self-image, an oversized ego, and a presumption of superiority not based on any real-world accomplishments. Narcissists reveal their feelings about themselves and others through their actions, which are often manipulative and self-centered. Despite the depth of feeling narcissism generates, and the deep-seated insecurity it compensates for, people diagnosed with severe narcissism (narcissistic personality disorder) can learn to manage their symptoms and reduce the disorder’s influence over their lives.

Past

Narcissus may have had a number of experiences that threw their idea of self and the world in which they live in disarray at an earlier developmental age. Experiences such as loss through bereavement or home, war, poor relationships with caregivers, poverty, bullying, emotional neglect could support the development of narcissistic traits. The personhood of Narcissus may have been negatively affected by the environment that they were raised in. Developing traits that support a positive view of themselves always, and a lesser view of anyone and everyone else around them. Projecting a view of all that hurt them, into and onto all others and everything else. Denying others their humanity and not recognising their own. Remaining perfect and invulnerable.

Gas Lighting

The term gaslight was coined after the 1944 film of the same name. Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. In the movie, a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind. Illustrating the destructive power of gaslighting.

Gas Mask at Altitude

Due to the human capacity for finding purpose and wanting to support others to attain fulfillment and happiness it often occurs that partners, family, friends and colleagues often want to rescue a person that appears to have narcissistic traits. The joke of how many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb fits here. “Ah but the light bulb has got to want change.” For any person engaging in therapy they must see the benefits of change. For someone with narcissistic traits if the problem is with all others then there is nothing to talk about and nothing that therapy can offer… Until…

Recalibration

The challenge for them is in the invitation to begin deconstructing and decommissioning a world view that has enabled Narcissus to win. Be victorious against a past that could have been annihilating for them. Surviving their history would be a closer approximation to their truth if they could trust enough for it to be heard. Dismantling an image, a perspective that has the person beginning to see that the vision they had held was askew is risky.

Staccato

As Jill Scott sang in Love Rain ‘the vibe slipping off it’s axis’ is a useful analogy to describe the destabilization. Slippage is necessary to enable a nobler sight of realism to be perceived and understood. Perhaps the task is not to save but to stand at a safe enough distance. Allow Narcissus to recognise that the image before her/himself is illusion. A visual echo of what once was. The mirrored and always elusive self is unable to be experienced – much like A Picture of Dorian Gray – the perfect imperfect.

*Humorosity

A cataclysmic explosion could be necessary for the change to begin in earnest for Narcissus. Perhaps… With curiosity and double doses of humoured inquiry an attempt to make mild interest of their now – known can be made. Rush not. Pose loose questions less with a sense of interrogation and more with a genuine want to peer behind their curtain. Inviting Narcissus to do so too. For though the subject appears to be laid bare and low due to their expression and expansion, this could either be their first genus of humility or the hard pressed kernel of defiant resistance.

Honouring

What lies at their centre? The aim here is to open chinks in a well-oiled, well maintained armour. The chinks let out as well as let in opportunities for scents of change. The process can be slow. What is to be noted is Narcissus’ recognition of empathy and warmth from themselves to another. Observing fealty and connection for themselves and also what being in honest communion is like. Where, if any differences are felt and what that may be like? Rather than them hearing the familiar self recriminations of blame, of anger, disappointment and fear. Letting themselves out of the prism they shielded themselves from the world – cautiously.

Ignoring the other

Mental and Physical expression

What next

There are a number of choices that could be made in relation to Narcissus. Leave them to attend to manage themselves by themselves. Stay and learn to manage life with them. Leave and attend to the holes that they pockmarked your life with. Stay but be emotionally detached. Leave and heal and be aware of narcissistic tropes. Stay and support them through change. Leave and live well. Stay and enlist others to support their change growth and development.

Attraction

The intriguing factor for me as a therapist is the attraction to Narcissus. Who brings some emotional pain, self doubt, a devalued sense of self, experiences of elation and happiness to the person(s) they are with.

Magnetic

Is there a part of their character that appeals above ones own although harmful? If this were the case what does being with Narcissus offer? Someone who is wicked with their humour? Bringing together a group of charming and attractive friends? Delights of social mobility and acceptance? A sense of  responsibility “If I don’t, who will?”, Does superiority, defiance, charm and wit with moments of crushing lows also become experiences of the person who has fallen for their attraction to Narcissus?

Evaluate with time away: life with and life without. There was a time before when they were not…

Support

A number of therapeutic models may be of use to support someone that has narcissistic traits and close others. Dialetical Behavioural Therapy, Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Therapy, Cognitive Analytic Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

The want to be better, as in the joke above, is to come from them.

Always.

Dr Dwight Turner Narcissism of the other one

Psychology Today 6 Ways to Make it Work

Understanding the Mind of

*Humorosity A Michaelism

**Pictures by Frank Morrison

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Goodbyes…

A few weeks ago I had a conversation about an interesting part of ending a meeting or a conversation – the good bye.

Good Bye Umbrella

Wind Caught Umbrella Away

I asked my colleague, “How do you find saying good bye to another professional?” I asked.

She replied: “I never really thought about it.”
I said: “Well…. I… have and I find myself saying bu’bye to just about everyone, even to people that are from call centres. What am I doing?” I said
“Well”… she paused, “it is a nice way to bring a conversation to an end. With my friends I sort of say BYEEEeee” She said
“So you sort of sing it?” I asked
“Yeah something like that…” she said, “…And then with one of the counsellors I worked with before, she would  say Bye Bye Bye Bye Bye as they were putting down the phone almost apologetically ending the conversation.”

Intention

Here I laughed uproariously, I couldn’t control it. The laughter was delicious and surprising and welcome. My laughter was in part due of recognition of how a counsellor may behave trying hard to maintain compassionate boundaries and also ending a call with a client. My colleague’s re-enactment was also a great characterisation of a person tentatively putting down the phone receiver cautiously. I could almost see the care and non malificence of the counsellor’s intent.

Family

My laugh of recognition was also about how I end my calls this way with my sisters especially my eldest sister.
One of my nieces asked: “Why can’t you just say I love you and get it over with?”
I gave a long explanation about the long good bye as meaning the same thing! My niece 14 at the time didn’t quite buy it. I don’t believe I really did either.

Formal

The goodbye or the bu’bye conversation with my colleague continued as I was looking for comparison with how others manage their goodbyes and when and where a bu’bye is an appropriate way of ending an engagement with another.

Warm

Perhaps a goodbye has become formalised as a permanent ending – hard with finality. Where as bu’bye is warm and has a similar meaning but is vague and familiar. I have in mind the bu’byes I said to my sons when they were much younger. However singing a good bye as my colleague does with her friends, I understand as another form of familiar parlance and recognition of the significance for people close to oneself.

Endings

Final Goodbyes

Goodbye Walking Away

In a few weeks I have an uncomfortable good bye ahead of me. My time at Together for Mental Wellbeing has run it’s course and I am to move on to pastures new. The experience I have gained at the charity has been amazing, transformative and unforgettable. The discomfort arises as I bare witness to the friends I have made, moments of inspiration had, insights shared, support offered and ideas for development discussed, are to be no more.

As a lay philosopher the opportunity to discuss ideas with others about the advancement of the criminal justice service in London and find ways to better support those in the community and those in custodial settings I will greatly miss.

As a group I have not come across another set of people that are as committed, compassionate, resourceful, flexible in thinking, and willing to work the unforgiving hours until the job is complete. It has been a growth making experience working alongside: Counselling Psychologists, Community Links Workers, Counsellors, Forensic Psychologists, the Data Team, IT department, HR team, Admin team, Managers from around the world all contributing to an organisation that has a belief based in recovery and safe return/re-entry to the community

Saying goodbye to all of the above is saying good onward journey for both of us. Borrowing a phrase from Chris the Big Issue seller at London Bridge who always offers me a phrase that makes me smile:

A truthful quote

Painful Goodbyes

‘Until we meet again’